Are you ready to embark on an unforgettable journey with Florida’s beloved sea cows, the manatees? These rubbery, slow-moving giants capture the hearts of all who encounter them, and lucky for you, we’ve curated the ultimate guide on how to spot and even swim with these gentle creatures. From freshwater springs to rehabilitation centers, Florida offers a plethora of opportunities for a manatee-filled adventure.

Blue Spring State Park, West Volusia County

Best Time: November to April

Blue Spring State Park, home to a first-magnitude spring, is a winter haven for manatees seeking the constant warmth of its 72-degree spring water. The park boasts a 1/3-mile observation boardwalk extending from the St. Johns River to the springhead, providing a bird’s-eye view of manatees without disturbing their natural behavior. Learn about their habitat, witness socializing, and even see rehabilitated manatees being released back into the wild.

Manatee Park, Fort Myers

Best Time: December to March

Lee County’s Manatee Park in Fort Myers is a premier destination for manatee spotting during the winter months. As temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico drop below 68°F, manatees seek refuge in the warm water of the park’s canal, a byproduct of the nearby power plant. It’s the perfect spot to witness these gentle giants up close during their winter migration.

Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, Tampa Bay

Zoo Tampa is not just a zoo; it’s a non-profit hospital and rehabilitation center for injured West Indian manatees. Since 1991, they’ve treated and released hundreds of manatees back into the wild. Visit the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center to see their dedication to manatee conservation.

Central Florida Manatee Adventures

Best Time: Cooler months

Epic Paddle Adventures, Get Up and Go Kayaking, BK Adventure, Real Florida Adventures and Viking Ecotours offer diverse experiences to witness manatees in Central Florida. From clear paddleboarding and kayaking tours to snorkeling in Crystal River and pedal kayak tours at Canaveral National Seashore, the options are endless.

St. Pete/Clearwater

Best Time: Winter months

Clearwater’s winter months are a prime time to spot manatees. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers clear bottom kayaking tours in Tarpon Springs starting in December, coinciding with the manatees’ migration to Spring Bayou. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium also provides comprehensive educational displays about manatees and their ecosystem.

Crystal River

Best Time: Year-round

Known as The Manatee Capital of The World, Crystal River offers numerous ways to experience manatees. Swim alongside them, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or take boat tours. Don’t miss the fully accessible boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Bradenton Area

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature houses The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, providing a glimpse into manatee rehabilitation efforts. For a wild encounter, head to Robinson Preserve, the Manatee River, or Bean Point during the winter season for a chance to spot these majestic creatures.

St. Lucie County

Explore the tranquil waters of St. Lucie County, a haven for manatees, also known as “vanishing mermaids.” Indian River Lagoon Boat Tours, Get Up and Go Kayaking, and On Local Time Water Excursions offer boat tours, clear kayak tours, and stand-up paddleboard excursions for an up-close manatee experience.

Pack your swimsuit, camera, and a sense of adventure, as you set out on a magical journey to witness the grace and charm of Florida’s gentle giants, the manatees. Remember to mind your manatee manners and enjoy the enchanting world beneath the surface of Florida’s crystal-clear waters.

Hotels in Crystal River, Florida

Source: Visit Florida

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